Impact story: Empowering communities to collect data

AzuKo is a small architecture charity, aiming to improve living conditions for people in the UK and Bangladesh. There are two staff (1.5 full-time equivalents) based in the UK who co-design and fundraise for delivery of projects locally. Here are a few methods used to understand communities needs through data collection.

In-depth interviews

In the UK the staff work as consultants to other organisations, for example local authorities. AzuKo’s work in the UK includes a project with the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham’s ‘Insight and Innovation’ team. I&I use quantitative data about the borough to improve services, for example to predict who might become homeless.

In this project AzuKo helped them collect qualitative data through in-depth interviews with homeless people and those at risk of eviction, to help the borough better understand their residents.

Empowering communities to collect data

Their overseas development projects focus on the built environment, such as sanitation. In Bangladesh there is a project manager with four staff members and a large group of volunteers who deliver in partnership with local communities.

An example of AzuKo’s work in Bangladesh is with a community of 250 people who live in an ‘informal settlement’. They worked in this community over seven years to make incremental changes, for example building community latrines. The overall goal is to get authorities to recognise the community’s existence and rights to the city.

To do this, AzuKo have set up a democratically elected management group from the local community to help lead the project. They train the group to collect baseline data, for example by doing interviews and taking photos. AzuKo uses KoBoCollect, a tool that can be used on people’s phones, allowing data to be uploaded directly to the database via the internet. KoBoCollect is a free app that allows you to collect field data collection in challenging environments and can be used to enter and upload interviews or other primary data.

Using the data

In AzuKo’s overseas work, the quality of data collected can be compromised as most partners and communities don’t have training in impact measurement. AzuKo relies on partners to translate findings and sometimes, it is felt, something may be lost in translation, as ‘culture is embedded in the nuances of language’. At the same time, the trade-off between empowering local communities and getting adequate data is acceptable.

Once a month, findings are shared in a team meeting. Learning from the data collected has revealed needs, such as the need for women to access training to be able to do small, low-cost home improvements rather than relying on men to do it.

Why is impact practice important?

AzuKo’s founder, bringing experience gained in the international development sector, has a keen interest in impact and evaluation, recognising the potential for community development work to create a negative impact and the importance of doing it, even on a small budget.

‘The only way you can know that is by measuring your impact. Unless you measure you could do harm.’ Jo Ashbridge

Evaluation is given some priority, with time diarised to make sure it gets done. She recognises the challenges for impact assessment, for example, potential changes in approach and ethics or the amount of data required

‘What we do today isn’t necessarily the right way to do this tomorrow.’ Jo Ashbridge

If you are thinking of doing something similar we suggest you:

  1. Plan how you are going to involve users in your impact practice. Use our quick exercise for deciding how to involve users.
  2. Think about creative methods for allowing users to collect data within the communities you work in. Read more about creative methods here.
  3. Speak to others who are doing similar to share ideas. Inspiring Impact and CheW host lots of free events to connect with likeminded individuals.

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